Pseudoaddiction

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Pseudoaddiction can be defined as type the behaviour of individuals addicted to a narcotic substance, due to the insufficient pain control. This term describes a phenomenon that can occur within the context of addiction treatment and refers to a situation where an individual displays behaviors that mimic those of addiction, but the underlying cause is actually inadequate pain management. In other words, it is a misinterpretation of behaviors that might appear as drug-seeking but are instead driven by uncontrolled pain.

In theory the concept pseudoaddiction enables healthcare providers to differentiate between true addictive behaviors and the actions taken to alleviate suffering. By acknowledging and addressing the pain that may be driving these behaviors, healthcare professionals can better help prevent the potential misdiagnosis and mistreatment of individuals who are in genuine need of pain management.

However distinguishing pseudoaddiction from true addiction could only be feasible if a person’s symptoms subside after receiving appropriate treatment. Nevertheless, at present, there is insufficient scientific research to validate pseudoaddiction as a distinct diagnostic entity from addiction.

Pseudoaddiction and Doctors

Pseudoaddiction is a debated concept with no empirical studies definitively proving its existence. It is challenging to distinguish between pseudoaddiction and true addiction, as both manifest similar behaviors, particularly in the context of opioid use. Healthcare professionals often struggle to discern whether a patient’s opioid use is driven by genuine pain or by addiction. Pseudoaddiction suggests that under-treating pain can lead to behaviors that resemble addiction.

Critics argue that the concept of pseudoaddiction may have inadvertently contributed to the opioid crisis by justifying the overprescription of opioids. The devastating impact of opioid overprescription is evident, with a significant rise in opioid overdose deaths. In 2017 alone, nearly 50,000 people died from opioid-related overdoses.

The concept also implies that opioids are the most effective treatment for chronic pain, which is often not the case. Alternative treatments, such as physical therapy, non-addictive medications, and over-the-counter pain relievers, can be equally or more effective for certain conditions. For instance, common pain relief following wisdom tooth extraction may not always require opioids like Vicodin, as over-the-counter options can be just as effective.

In the face of the current opioid crisis, the priority for healthcare professionals should be a balanced approach to pain management, considering the serious risks of addiction. Given these considerations, there is a growing opinion that it might be time to move beyond the concept of pseudoaddiction.

How Common is Pseudoaddiction?

Chronic pain is a widespread issue, with about 20.4% of adults in the United States experiencing it as of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Globally, the extent of untreated or poorly managed pain is significant, with an estimated 83% of the world’s population having inadequate or no access to proper pain management medications.

This lack of access to pain treatment may lead many people to use alternative methods, such as substance use, to alleviate their pain. Chronic noncancer-related pain is more prevalent among people who use drugs, affecting approximately 48–60% of this group, compared to 11–19% in the general population.

Several factors contribute to inadequate pain management. These include limited access to pain medications or pain management resources in some regions, financial constraints, and the inability to access healthcare professionals who can prescribe appropriate medications. Additionally, the stigma surrounding certain pain medications, particularly opioids, may deter individuals from discussing these options with doctors or using them for pain relief.

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    Founded in 2008, WeDoRecover has evolved from an advisory service for addiction treatment into a comprehensive provider of care, following its 2019 merger with Changes Addiction Rehab in Johannesburg. Specializing in connecting patients to top-tier addiction treatment centers in the UK, South Africa, and Thailand, WeDoRecover supports individuals globally, including those from the United Arab Emirates and Europe. Accepting both South African medical aid and international health insurance, the organization facilitates access to high-quality treatment for substance and alcohol use disorders, offering individualized care that addresses the physical, mental, and social needs of patients.



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